What If My Anxiety is Actually Intuition that Something is Wrong?

by | Feb 13, 2022 | Trust Yourself | 50 comments

One of the most common questions I receive in my work is:

How do I know the difference between fear that’s coming from anxiety and fear that’s coming from intuition alerting me to a real problem?

It’s the million-dollar question, the one that drives people to my site in a middle-of-the-night Google search, the one that causes untold amounts of misery, the one that catches people on the hamster wheel of their intrusive thoughts. It’s often the meta-question above all of the other perseverating questions, and, because it carries so much power, it’s the one that prevents people from committing to their inner work. Sub-questions include:

What if there really is something wrong with my relationship and by calling it “relationship anxiety” I’m ignoring a real problem?

What if there really is something wrong with my health and by calling it “health anxiety” I’m ignoring a real problem?

The ability to discern between a true problem and anxiety hinges on self-trust.

Self-trust is the quiet, clear, grounded place inside of you that is connected to wisdom.

It’s beyond “right” and “wrong”. It’s transcends “shoulds”.

It cuts through what you’ve been told you’re supposed to do, your parents’ or peers’ opinions, and what the culture espouses.

And you’re the only one who can access it. Self-trust is your knowing, your wisdom, and your voice.

It’s also your birthright. It’s the crystal compass at the center of your being that has existed inside of you from the moment you were born. It’s the part of you that knew when you were hungry, knew that you needed to be close to your caregivers, know who you liked, when you wanted to eat, and what you needed. It’s an essential part of you, and retrieving your lost self-trust allows you to navigate your life with clarity and confidence.

Self-trust is also intimately connected to self-knowledge, for it’s when we know ourselves, which happens by spending time exploring our internal labyrinths with the headlight of curiosity strapped to our forehead, turning over rocks, examining what lives in the dark, forgotten soil and also the places of unspeakably beautiful light, that we begin to know ourselves and like ourselves. This is the equation that I teach in my Trust Yourself course:

Self-Knowledge + Self-Love = Self-Trust

When you know yourself, you can discern the subtle but clear difference between the anxiety-voice and the intuition-sense. Through spending time criss-crossing your inner terrain, you get to know your reactions and the subtle differences between anxiety and intuition, all of which leads to trusting yourself. This is one the biggest challenges of working with anxiety: anxiety and intuition can sound and feel almost exactly the same. It’s the muscle of self-trust that discerns between the two.

I’ll share an example of what the muscle of discernment looks like:

My boys are playing outside in the snow. My husband comes in from his studio, looks out the window, and asks, “Where are the boys? I don’t see them out there. Maybe they’re down at the creek.” My fear-mind, which is often the first to raise its hand, tosses me an image of them being attacked and eaten by the bear that has been roaming around our property for the past few months.

This is my inherited fear, its neural pathways strengthened both by my temperament as a highly sensitive person (hypervigilant to danger) and by my ancestral habits that have been handed down for generations. There’s my grandmother, her lips drawn tight with worry. There’s my mother, imagining the worst-case scenario about her kids. And it’s not hard to imagine my great-great-great grandmother rubbing her hands in deep worry about the survival of her children.

My ancestors had good reason to worry, and yours did, too. It’s essential here to remember that it’s only recently that we’ve lived in environments that are safer, and in bodies that have a greater chance of health than illness (and when we do get sick, the brilliance of medicine both East and West is here to help us). Anxiety connected to real-and-present danger has been an evolutionary advantage that has served us well for thousands of years. But, as it’s quite rare, especially in certain parts of the world, to be in a situation that is life-threatening, we’re being asked to evolve the tendency to catastrophize at every turn.

So, back to the bear… if I give voice to the fear and say something out loud to my husband like, “Do you think they’re being mauled by a bear?”, I’m throwing a log on fear’s fire, which will only grow the fear flames (fear is inflamed by attention). But when I tune in I can feel that this thought is a story that my mind is handing me. The fear-line has an upper-layer quality to it, as if it’s coming from my head. It doesn’t feel sturdy or real. Some part of me knows that my boys aren’t being eaten by a bear. So I don’t say anything.

Then my husband says, “Oh, there they are. They’re playing under the cottonwood trees. Do you think that’s safe?” Immediately, I feel a slight tightness in my chest, and I can see in my mind’s eye the weight of the already several-ton branches now being weighted down even more with several inches of snow. Without over-thinking and trusting my intuition I say, “That’s probably not the best idea. Can you ask them not to play over there when you go back out?”

Anxiety feels familiar and alarming, but when I sit with it for even a moment, I can sense that it doesn’t hold water.

True intuition is grounded and clear. It’s a knowing that I can trust.

Again, this is a subtle difference that I’m aware of because of decades of unraveling and healing from the ruptures of self-doubt that defined my first part of life. This is the same place that fueled my perfectionism, caring what others think, and being addicted to approval. I share the story of how I broke free from these well-worn tendencies in my Trust Yourself program, as well as the mindsets and tools that, when practiced, can help you heal from self-doubt and replace it with self-trust. For there’s a clear and accessible roadmap that, when followed, will help you reverse the focus of your attention from external to internal so that you can know yourself and love yourself, which will restore the self-trust that is your birthright, your compass, and your joy.

My 17th round of Trust Yourself: A 30-day program to help you overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt will begin on Saturday, March 5th, 2022. I only lead this course once a year. and I look forward to meeting you there.

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Following are the call times for the two live coaching calls. Please note that only about 1/3 of participants are able to join the live calls, and the recordings will be available immediately afterward:

Call 1: Tuesday March 8th at 4pm ET
Call 2: Thursday March 31st at 1:30pm ET

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50 Comments

  1. Dear Sheryl,
    thank you for the inspiring article. I was wondering: Does our intuition transcend trauma or does it become affected and therefore might need to be “retrained” in some cases?
    I’m thinking of attachment trauma (or even ptsd), which can result in an adult fear of intimacy – but only due to the fact that intimacy once posed an actual threat, for instance when confronted with an emotionally immature parent as a child. I would love to hear your thoughts on this, thanks:)

    Reply
    • I dealt with this question. I finally came to terms with the fact that my intuition WAS telling me that something was wrong, and I sat with that. I decided: this man I wanted to marry really was not the type of guy I had been conditioned my whole life was the type of guy I should be looking for. We really were mismatched in a whole lot of ways, and there were a bunch of ways I would not be fulfilled in this marriage. Once I came to terms with this truth that my intuition was telling me all these things were wrong with this guy and wrong in my relationship, I asked myself if I wanted to marry him anyway. And I decided I did. So we are now married, and happy most of the time. And sometimes we aren’t. And I think I made a well-measured, well-thought out decision to marry intelligently. I’m super happy we’re together and that I listened to my intuition and came to terms with what it was telling me. Now when some of my husband’s flaws or some of our incompatibility are evident, I just tell myself, “I knew what I was getting into, and I chose this with intention.” What I had to fight to be able to embrace marriage was the idea that everything had to be perfect for it to be good. And it is all OK.

      Reply
      • Thank you for saying this Heather! I’ve been coming to terms lately with the fact that my Intuition was telling me I really didn’t want to be with my now-fiancé when we first started dating. It’s been sending me into a spiral of “see, I AM the exception”. But it’s so true that so much of me not wanting to be with him was because he wasn’t who I was conditioned to believe would fulfill me, enhance my life, and make me feel everything I’ve ever wanted to. My sister said it perfectly about her partner (she struggles with RA as well), “He’s the such a good guy and probably the best person I could ever be with, but I don’t want him”…we are conditioned to close off to and not want the good guys, the stable and loyal and loving guys, the guys who truly care. My intuition was confident that a guy like my fiancé was not “good enough” because I didn’t “feel” in love, I wasn’t physically attracted to him and there was no “spark”. Yet he is the kindest most loving person I have ever known and the unconditional love he shows me is 1000% true love. It makes sense that when we are sold a story of what love “should” be, anything that goes against that is “bad” and “wrong” and an intuitive part of us will believe that because it doesn’t want us to miss out on fulfilling our lives in the only way we knew how. But we get the chance now to learn what true love is, to find safety and security and home in our loving and stable partners and teach our intuition that we are choosing to stay with our incredible partners because they aren’t a threat like we once believed they were-they truly are good enough and worth it. Thank you so much for sharing Heather and sorry for the long post!

        Reply
        • Hi Kristen! I love this comment, I have been with my boyfriend for 2 years now, he is the most caring, honest and kind human ever, in our relationship he is the pursuer. I have been feeling relationship anxiety from the beginning. Through this time my RA has taken the form of jealousy, of wanting to be controlling, questioning attraction, questioning spark and compatibility, and being so young (22&21) everyone out there just tells me to date around because I can’t possibly know what I want at this age. I feel completely safe with him, he has been incredibly patient in this process, he’s been mature and resilient, he has never doubted our love or me, he believes in me, and sometimes that triggers me. Because I have come to realize that I am a very selfish person; when I was little I was a victim of
          Sexual abuse by a family member, i was so young, and I spent every single day of my life trying to protect myself from potential painful situations, I became very skilled at keeping people at a comfortable distance, and know that I have my boyfriend who is loving and wants a future with me I am faced with the reality of having sheltered myself so much that I struggle to open up to love. I feel like I don’t deserve him, he is healthy, confident, trustworthy and safe, and I am just me, a big mess. I am this imperfect person riddled with anxiety, with so much love for him, but so many walls guarding that love and keeping it very very locked inside. Most days I don’t feel butterflies, I get irritated, other days I am all over him. But lately I just feel tired of not feeling like myself, of being locked inside the walls I build, I feel so tired I don’t even want to fight with him anymore, I don’t want to be jealous anymore. Is this a good thing? It’s been so long since I have managed to control myself and actually “let it go” instead of engaging with pointless quarrels with him and I don’t know if that is a sign that I am healing (I go to therapy every week) or it means that I lost feelings. Our love feels safe, his love is constant, I want to be what he deserved and it would break my heart to see him with someone else, because he is the best person I have ever met. And I am just in a point where I want to enjoy the relationship and stop the self-sabotage. Is this a good thing?

          Reply
      • Heather, I wish I could talk to you one on one. This resonates with me to my core and I only hope I can find the peace and the love that you have.

        Reply
    • Yes! The question of gut vs intuition was one of my most challenging sticking points in the crippling anxiety that reared its head as soon as I got engaged in 1995. I truly felt completely and utterly alone in my ruminations as to whether I loved my husband as I “should” to marry him.

      Somewhere, deep down, I knew he was a keeper and extraordinary human, but I couldn’t access that over the deafening cacophony of the anxious thoughts. Medication (eventually copious amounts), and numerous psychiatrists and therapists and modalities ensued, along with constant anxiety and eventually depression. But along the way there was much blessing- a wedding, three beautiful kids and a life of growth and self-discovery.

      Back in the 90s when the anxiety first reared its head, there were not resources like Sheryl to normalize the experience and offer support and wisdom. Slowly, over the course of decades, concepts like relationship substantiation, ROCD and Sheryl’s blog offered “aha” moments, but as Sheryl often says, the healing was not linear, and I continued to struggle enormously in my inner world.

      Oh, the hundreds, probably thousands of hours spent in anxiety rabbit holes over the last 25 years- do we share enough in common, is my faith strong enough (he’s a minister), what will we do when we retire, what if we have nothing to talk about, we don’t seem as connected as other couples, what about the spark, was it ever there, etc, etc, ad nauseum. It always came back to this question as to what was intuition and what was fear.

      In the past year, my 50th, the lights have slowly come on, and something really clicked in when I read this article a few months ago. Here’s what I found most helpful:

      “The two most important things that separate fear from intuition are

      1) Intuition being only about the present. There’s NO worrying about past or future involved.
      2) Intuition being neutral, unemotional, whereas fear is highly emotionally charged.

      Reliable intuition feels right, it has a compassionate, affirming tone to it.
      It confirms that you are on target, without having an overly positive or negative feel to it.
      Fear is often anxious, dark or heavy. It has cruel, demeaning or delusional content (to yourself or to others) and it reflects unhealed psychological wounds.”

      I was particularly struck by intuition being about the present. Ruminating on the past (did my reaction to that particular comment by a friend 10 years ago when I was struggling with my engagement mean that my “truth” was that I should not be with him) or the future (what will we have to talk about when we are 65) was not listening to the deep knowing about my present. And it created highly emotionally charged states. There was absolutely nothing compassionate or affirming about it.

      When I really sat with it, over a period of months, I could finally see that my intuition was being covered over by all of the endless “thinking”. I was finally able to sense that deep knowing that I’ve often read about, but have never really been able to access. And that deep knowing was that I’ve had a man who has shown me nothing but unconditional love and support for over 21 years. And the longer I sit with this knowing, the more powerful and loving it feels.

      Phew, I did not mean to write a book! But I so many times I have read the comments on these blogs, and found such a sense of connection to them. Keep reading, keep on being determined and listening to the deep wisdom of people like Sheryl. Explore your inner world with compassion and gentleness and curiosity, and eventually, with time and grace, the self-trust will emerge. It does get better, I promise.

      Reply
      • This is an extraordinary comment and an extraordinary story! Thank you so much for sharing it, and it just goes to show that there is no timeline for healing but that when you stay with yourself and “live the questions”, as Rilke says, eventually the questions resolve and you find more peace and well-being.

        Reply
        • Thanks for that affirmation Sheryl. That Rilke quote has a different nuance to it every time I ponder it. It is so true that there is no timeline for healing, and in fact, there is no final destination either, as we will always be human and in need of healing. But I can say with conviction that I have finally come to a place where the intrusive thoughts have quieted in a way that I’ve never experienced as I’ve finally been able to drop down into that understanding of intuition. I am now experiencing life in a technicolor that has been beyond my reach for so long.

          Your work has been essential in driving home the message that the thoughts are “normal” and a messenger of my own issues, NOT a message about the strength or quality of my relationship or spouse. It might be helpful for others to hear that for me, despite a very psychologically aware upbringing within a safe and healthy parental marriage, I still managed to find myself in the grip of relationship anxiety. So yes, as I’ve heard you say before, even if you had a loving, safe upbringing, it can still take hold. But if you keep living the questions and digging deep, the self trust that you eventually find will be so, so worth it.

          Reply
          • Thank you blessed!
            Your story is inspiring.
            I also feel like i might finally after 4 years be healing.
            And i am sure i Will spiral agian, but i am handling the triggers in a whole new Way – seeing Them in a new and positive light!
            Thank you again for your comment!

            Reply
            • I’m glad you found inspiration C. It is so heartening to get those glimpses of light, isn’t it? At the time, the spirals are so challenging, but I think that every time we circle round again, we are building our self-knowledge and understanding, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment!

              Reply
      • Blessed, I am 20 years younger than you, but I feel like we might be twins. So grateful for your insights (and, of course, for all of Sheryl’s!!). I truly believe the Lord directed me to this site and to articles and comments like these so that I don’t have to live through medication and hours of anxiety rabbit holes! So thank you both for sharing, from the bottom of my heart!

        Reply
        • For a second when you wrote “I truly believe the Lord directed me to this site” I had to check the name because I thought maybe I was reading my own comment lol
          I find extra comfort when I see fellow believers on this website because sometimes my anxiety goes down the rabbit hole of, “if I was really letting the Lord lead my life and was following his voice I wouldn’t be in this much confusion and anxiety. This can’t be Gods will.” I believe I also wrote somewhere on this blog that the Lord lead me here because around my engagement (I am now married) I needed this blog so badly and I was praying for some answers and for help, and then came across this blog. I never heard of RA and it really helped me so so much. The struggle is so real and i find it so hard some days. My biggest struggle is seeing other couples seeming to have found that romantic love I’ve always dreamt of finding. It’s been my hearts greatest desire to have a fluttering, sparks flying, romantic, passionate, desirable kind of love. But find myself instead in this battle like whirlwind of anxiety that feels more like a burden and a pit. I do find comfort over here in the comment sections tho and that I am so incredibly thankful. I also found insight and comfort in Blessed’s comments. I’m praying for everyone that makes their way here and reads this comment that we ALL come out this relationship anxiety and find clarity and peace in Jesus name????

          Reply
      • Hi Blessed. Hoping you will see this, considering this was posted in November, but I will give it a shot anyway. I’ve read through all your replies on this post and found you so insightful and comforting. Seeing that you’ve struggled with RA for a long time and seem to have come over the other side of the mountain. Atleast you seem to have conquered a lot of the relationship anxiety demons. It’s truly reassuring to read about. I would love to hear more of your experiences, struggles, triggers, and how you dealt and got through the years of the battle. God bless you and thank you for your replies in trying to comfort the rest of us still in the depths. Thank you again, hoping to hear from you ?

        Reply
        • Hi C,
          I’m a little late to your post though my RA/ROCD did develop around the time you posted in May. It happened right after I got engaged and I very much agree with what you have said about the comfort that comes with finding fellow believers on this site. I have fallen into the Gods will anxiety rabbit hole as well when worrying about the anxiety I’m feeling and it being a sign from God I’m not in His perfect will. Sheryl’s blog about this very topic and the comments I found on there have been such a source of light with this obsession I’ve dealt with (there have been so many others both including God and others not). I also love what Blessed shared about being a ministers wife and worrying if she had enough faith to be in that position. I too am about to marry a pastor in a little over 4 months, and the engagement period has been difficult. Though I love him very much and on my best days I do believe this is Gods will, it can just be hard to sense that when in the throes of anxiety. Trusting the Lord to continue to lead us all. Would love to hear from either of you – Blessed or C.
          God bless you!

          Reply
        • C or Blessed,

          I hope you see this! I am a believer as well and have been with my boyfriend for about two years. We love each other very much and want to get married but have encountered a few issues as of late, mainly dealing with when to get married and where to live because we live 2.5 hours from each other.
          I see this as being a time of transition for both of us and we are praying about where to live, because we both like where we live and see the benefits but we know one of us will have to make that decision. And of course I spiral thinking maybe it’s a sign we aren’t supposed to be together. And I pray so hard to know what to do and to be willing to do it if it means me moving or to accommodate him and be supportive if it means him moving. I have dealt with relationship anxiety throughout this entire time of being with him. When we talk about getting married it feels warm and comfortable, and other times when he talks about it, sometimes that lurch a fear jumps into my body. It’s hard for me to discern whether that is telling me that I really don’t want to get married or that I’m just afraid. I know deep down I don’t want to lose him and I want to have a life with him. My prayer is that we will find a way to be together and that we would be willing to support one another, no matter who ends up moving.

          Reply
    • Hello,

      How do you always touch base on my current situations lol! My anxiety is usually wrong, but then I can get it on a pretty regular basis. However, sometimes when I’m working on something I will get anxiety and feel a bit faint and flushed and that is a sign to stop and take a break, so I do and realize I was going too far and stressing too much over doing that small task such as over-cutting my own hair, reorganizing spaces, etc.

      Thank you so much for this.

      Reply
  2. Hi Sheryl, I’m a first time mom to a 9 month old and have been REALLY struggling with anxiety over my baby – is he developmentally normal, is something wrong with him, etc. I’d like to go through another of your courses to work through some of these feelings (I’ve taken Break Free and Open Your Heart already) and I wonder if this one would be most appropriate, or a different course?

    Reply
    • Hi Julia,

      I know it’s been a while since you wrote this comment, but I am where you were. Any insight on how to overcome these thoughts about something being “wrong” with your child? Thank you so much xo

      Reply
  3. Dear Sheryl, am currently learning with you in your Break Free 9 month course. At the same time this topic of self-trust is essential and monumental for me. I’d like to go into depth with it. Would you recommend taking these courses simultaneously or waiting until you open up the Trust Yourself course at a later date? In other words, what are your thoughts on doing courses if yours simultaneously?

    Reply
    • It’s really up to you. If you feel like you have bandwidth for another course, it would be find to take both at once – and, in fact, they could support one another. My sense is that with the pause weeks that are integrated into the 9-month course it probably wouldn’t be too much to take both, but it’s really up to you.

      Reply
  4. I can’t get my head around this. My mind is telling me because I’m feeling this way and even thinking these things it must be intuition. I sometimes even feel that dropping sensation in my gut. I’m stuck on feeling like this isn’t how love feels so it can’t be the right person. This has been going on for months now! Can you explain in basic terms how I should know the difference between intuition and fear? I’m so confused- I really want my relationship to work but I just can’t see it ever feeling normal again.

    Reply
    • Hi Shannon. I totally, totally get your confusion. I often felt like I was just going to spin into craziness. What stands out for me in your comment is “my mind” is telling me. For me, I discovered that my “mind” is frankly a wholly separate entity from my gut/intution. After working with a lot of mindfulness, I can actually “see” all those thoughts whirling and spiking in my head in the area right behind my eyes. The secondary effect is that when they catch hold, then they drop to my stomach (and then radiate into the rest of my body and get stuck in an astonishing complexity of ways). In my experience once you’re in the cycle, sometimes those bodily sensations come first.

      Intuition, on the other hand, for me, does not originate in my thinking brain or the anxious stomach. It turns out that all of those firing thoughts in my head do not hold any truth for me. I have discovered that my intuition is the thing I can hear once I learned to see the mind machinations as a wholly separate entity. And for a long, long time, I simply could not hear it, no matter how hard I tried, because I had no language for it and had simply not nurtured it. I spent all my life in my thinking brain, achieving academically and professionally, which is what a thinking brain is great for, but it didn’t do my any favors in tuning into my intuition.

      You can feel normal again. Trust, trust, trust the process.

      Reply
      • Dear Blessed

        I’m not sure if you will see a comment on this older post, but you write so eloquently and accurately about this struggle, which sounds almost identical to my own.

        I’m 52 and have spent my adult life (marriage, two kids and reasonable career) gripped by relationship anxiety, with intrusive thoughts and many spirals into depression (especially in transitions).
        Midlife has caused me to suffer greatly this year again, but I am sooooo grateful to have found Sheryl and this wonderful site.
        After over 30 years of turmoil, I can relax in the knowledge that I’m not alone and I’m not abnormal.

        Just today I confided to my therapist that I have spent too long trying in intellectualise this experience – only to the read your words here. Such synchronicity!!

        Well done for summing it up so well! Xx

        Reply
  5. Sheryl,
    Although over the years I have gotten over my relationship anxiety, I have been gripped by the hold of health anxiety quite strongly, now. I’m not sure what to do; every time it flares up I worry that “this time it’s a real problem” and then end up taking myself to the doctor where nothing ends up being wrong. Do you have any advice for me?

    Reply
  6. Sheryl, after many “Western / and Eastern, Studies, Anxiety,(of which I suffered with), turning towards looking at my “Fears, with the help of Meditation, Mindfulness, Therapy), I was able to see that Self Compassion was what was causing me not to realize that my Intuition, (Gut Feeling), was not based on Anxiety, a feeling that, in my life “Twists Intuition,&, Gut Feeling’s to the point where, I have to return to self Knowledge, Trust,&, above Self Compassion

    Reply
  7. A few months ago, I was hospitalized for anxiety. In a crisis center for a week because I was in a constant state of panic about not understanding what I was experiencing and fearing it would never go away. I got to a point where I self harmed, which is something I never EVER thought I would come close to doing. They finally put me on the right medications (for now) to make me functional and now I am able to do the work (therapy, meditation, mindfulness) to alleviate my symptoms.

    Anyway, I have been diagnosed with OCD, and my OCD for whatever reason manifests in romantic relationships. I am 26 years old, have been single for nearly 6 years because I always got anxious when dating and thought my gut was screaming at me so I would always end it. Until I recently met an incredible man. Checks off every box, and this anxiety came on stronger than it ever has. This is what caused me to spiral initially and resulted in me needing emergency care.

    The confusion this type of OCD causes is so incredibly debilitating and a lot of times shuts off any chance of connection because I am in a state of panic or just have this horrible pit in my stomach. I randomly will feel like I need to end things when he does absolutely nothing wrong or triggering. It is like this voice that constantly says “nope, this isn’t for you” and it makes me feel awful. Sometimes the feelings come before the thoughts. Its caused me to lose excitement and question how I should be feeling constantly.

    The content on here has been so reassuring that this is quite possibly what I have been experiencing, my therapist thinks similarly as well. Yet, I still DOUBT it at times. I think the biggest reason why I doubt is because it happens so quickly when I start dating, and most of the content is about people in long term relationships. Is this something many people experience in early stages of dating as well?

    Reply
    • Hi Kaitlyn. I hope you find my comment to Shannon helpful. It sounds like you’ve been to a really painful place. I’m sure Sheryl will reassure you that yes, this is something that many people experience in the early stages of dating. While there is universality in the suffering, each of us has a unique path to its manifestation! When I look back, I would get a spike here or there early on in my relationship with my husband, but it didn’t turn into full blown, crippling anxiety until there was a reality that it would no longer be long distance, but we’d be seeing one another constantly.

      One thing that I’ve always found incredibly confusing and doubt producing was the fact that when viewing relationship anxiety through an OCD lens, I didn’t have any other OCD “themes”. For me, a key was accepting that the experience of anxiety does not necessarily neatly fit into the clinical models that have been established. What really matters is understanding that the anxiety is not my “truth”, and exploring healthy ways of addressing its roots and learning ways how to drop out of the “thinking” brain.

      Reply
      • This was beyond helpful. Thank you so much for your reply. I also read your other response. WOW. So comforting to know other people have also experienced the feeling before the thoughts. Totally make sense between the gut feeling and your mind misfiring. When I look back, the decisions I felt the most confident in were in fact the truth, rather than the ones fueled with fear and uncertainty.

        Here is another source I have found helpful. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WrPrY59fnCI

        Reply
        • I am so glad you found it helpful Kaitlyn!

          Reply
  8. Hi Sheryl,

    Is the relationship healthy and loving if I feel like my partner for the overwhelming majority of our relationship just triggers me and I feel that the core connection is missing? That my partner and I don’t “flow” or get each other? It just seems like I don’t genuinely like him and it’s hard to tell if it’s because we are both disconnected from our higher selves, true RA, or if the relationship is just simply wrong. I just wish we had an emotional connection and that he truly gets me. I feel like we both just trigger each other and this relationship has been doomed from the start.

    Reply
    • Wow I wish someone was able to respond to this. I feel similarly and wonder where you’re at now.

      Reply
      • It’s tricky to respond when I don’t have the full story. Taken at face value with the information shared, we would naturally assume that perhaps it’s not a “good match” – and that’s certainly how most people would respond. But this doesn’t take into account many crucial pieces of information that can only be ascertained when we hear the full story.

        Reply
        • My heart is kind of hurting right now. We have never fully been truly deeply connected I feel. I know I have gone through bouts of connection and bouts of disconnection. I know I have sometimes wanted more, wanted him to be a different way. But have stayed because of his beautiful heart and his soft nature. We have been having a lot of quiet lately and haven’t had a lot of conversation, laughter talking. I haven’t been feeling like I truly am matched well with him and my heart is breaking and hurting. I keep trying to dig for something that could be preventing me from connecting and I’m hoping I find that something because right now it feels like I’m pushing away my truth which is that I’m not happy and this isn’t enough. And I don’t want that, i so don’t want that.

          Reply
          • One important question to ask is: “Am I connected in other areas of my life? Do I feel alive, fulfilled, awake, in joy separate from the relationship?”

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            • I do and that’s what scares me. I feel like I can laugh, communicate easily with those around me and at work. That’s what scares me, I feel like I am able to chat be my witty self other people think I’m funny and when I get home to him sometimes it is just awkward like we have nothing to talk about. I love this man. I don’t want to lose him but I’m scared and I’m trying so hard

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              • Hi CLM

                May I ask how long have you been together? What attracted you both to one another?

                You don’t always need something to talk about, silence is ok in a relationship so long as you’re talking about proper issues (relationship issues). When you say it feels awkward, do you mean you feel anxious as in an awkward silence?

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  9. I just came across The Wisdom of Anxiety and eagerly began reading it only to come to page 15 where it says that anxiety is about a danger that doesn’t exist in the present moment. But what about being afraid of something that may well happen down the road? My challenge is financial insecurity. I know the numbers and they don’t look good. Is the book and it’s lessons still for someone like me? I look forward to your feedback. Thank you.

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    • Keep reading. The same work will apply.

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  10. Hi Sheryl

    It would be great if you or anyone from this wonderful community could offer some perspective.
    My SO and I weren’t the best of people to ourselves and to each other. We had a terrible fallout for quite a trivial reason, but as it was my first relationship (and also his first serious adult relationship), I didn’t really know about my capacity and boundaries and the fact that we could have separated and probably given our emotions a better outlet. I kind of bore the brunt of his anger/ disappointment for a long long time, beyond my capacity and without voicing how I was feeling. Sort of thought it was responsibility to bear for causing hurt.

    If I am honest, there were a few red flags (nothing that couldn’t be worked on, but I would like to mention that I do understand where he came from, family environment, loss of close ones, etc and so I would like to give his behavior a benefit of doubt; he has long ago acknowledged those and corrected. He wasn’t resistant to change but they happened at his own pace and I was starting to lose hope. I feel so depleted of energy/ positivity (in general we both are confused about our careers, I resigned a year ago and haven’t yet taken up a job, I am anyway quite down because of that).
    Also I have my own traumatic exp from childhood for which only recently I have begun to get a different perspective. If I didn’t have him to blame for some of our lost time, I know that because of my own baggage, this would still have been difficult (I have thoughts that one day when I feel accomplished I am not going to need him/ or somewhere deep down I am just waiting to tell him to move on, sadness of passing anxiety to children, damaging environ, my sexuality etc, tons of anxiety/ intrusive thought already occupy my head)

    All this leads to feel that we were doomed from the start. He asked me for marriage, we have been together 5yrs, on and off. Because of loss of loved ones, he tries to just stay on the happy track, I know where he lacks, but I cant find it in myself to support him or guide him. I used to be quite wise/ upbeat but I am just full of resentment, doubt, anger, anxiety. I know the best course of action would be to just get on with our lives and I feel we are just stalling that process of letting go. When I am all quiet and busy, I seem to be ok but then I start talking/ thinking about being with him and all of my peace goes (idk if its anxiety about transition), its just sad that we can’t seem to work it/ build that trust and all of the stuff from our past/feelings just comes up.

    He has also been extremely loving, there was a time when that fact would bring tears to my eyes, it still does. The only drawback was at the intial 1-2yrs he didnt quite know how to express/ handle his emotions. And I never raised concern over that.

    He has been open to the idea of counselling. But there’s this fear and sadness that we wont be able to work it out and he’ll be even more sad (he just lost his Mom and then after all the effort we’ll call it quits).
    I feel quite anxious that what if I were to discuss our relationship with people and they’ll judge him/ or me for staying by him. I have this gut/ intuition (idk) that we need to work on ourselves separately and if I still stay by him trying to make it work, I am just fooling my self or being dishonest with myself. I have told him bits about my childhood stuff but quite a bit is just with me, at times I feel like an impostor and get this feeling I should just be alone to save him/ anybody else the trouble of processing stuff). For some reason (based on few stories), this thing has been stuck that people take breaks and later end up better and together, so this break thing has been plaguing me that we never took a long enough break to renew ourselves.

    Apologies for such a long post! Have a good day (:

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  11. Hi, I was diagnosed with GAD a few years ago after my anxiety got out of control during a dating relationship – I thought she was the girl I was going to marry, but started to have real heavy doubts about the relationship (no obvious red flags, I just started to feel different about it – and very anxious). We ended up breaking up, but this same crippling anxiety has plagued me in other relationships since then. I don’t totally know how to describe the feeling, but I start to feel trapped while sitting across the table from the other person, and start to feel very avoidant. Most of the anxiety is very visceral, and not necessarily very mental.

    I guess my confusion is whether or not this is my intuition telling me I am not into the person, or if I am having major attachment insecurity; I don’t want to run from a good thing, but I wonder if I should trust my gut. Telling myself that I just like the person as a friend can give me comfort, but it is so hard to tell what is true.

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  12. Hi Sheryl, I just recently broke up with a patient, soulful, beautiful man who loves me and whom I love. I have always been concerned about whether we are intellectual equals (I’m an academic, and I want to be with someone who can keep pace with the ideas I’m learning. Always have. This feels like a dealbreaker for me.) My internal critique of his intelligence made me feel so guilty that I felt I needed to leave in order to love him well. Plus, we are long distance, and I had this hopeless feeling that I didn’t have the bandwidth to handle both my anxiety and my career. I am wondering how to best heal in the no-contact interim time. I don’t want to heal for the sake of getting back together with him — he can’t be the reason for my healing — but I want to honor that hope of reuniting, too, and I’m not sure how to do both without playing mind games with myself.

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    • Hi Sheryl,

      I’m very confused on the aspect of intuition and rocd. I’ve been with my partner for 10 years and have experienced all the typical rocd thoughts and anxieties throughout. Lately I have been thinking alot about intuition and when I think of leaving the relationship I feel a calm sense in my body which then causes me to anxiously overthink. Is it possible that we can, at times have a calm/knowing feeling to leave the relationship which can confuse and cloud our judgement? I don’t want to leave my partner but this calmness is something I haven’t experienced before.

      I hope this makes sense as I only ever see intuition explained as a calm, knowing which makes me think I need to leave the relationship.

      Thankyou in advance if anyone is able to answer.

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  13. It is so fascinating reading all the comments here, and all the other blogs too. I don’t really know where to write but this spot is as good as any. Sheryl I discovered your pages a couple of days ago and have been absorbing it all.

    I too suffer from crippling relationship anxiety (for want of something to call it). It is much worse now in my 40s and I am sure it is due to all the outside noise that has increased through the media-lubricated voices of our culture. I have had a life time of depression, a covert narcissistic mother being the major source. I’ve worked extra hard for the last 7 years including a much better therapist and creating the space for some serious internal enquiry. It’s helped.

    I had taken a long break from relationships and reached a better place than ever last year, regarding keeping depression at bay. I decided to try dating again and met a good man online (not my preferred way to meet someone). I wasn’t too keen to get into something big but there was no denying he improved my life, and somehow 8 months later I’m in a relationship again. Having met unconventionally and him not being someone I would usually go for (in terms of looks but also background) I think it has fueled my anxious voice. The voice has a lot to hold on to in those things. However that intuition (which I hope is what I am listening to) has kept me here. In the past I would be long gone. I’ve tried to control the negative thoughts about him or us or the comparisons that come thick and fast, “I’m more attracted to that guy over there than my boyfriend so it can’t be right”, or, “if I cared about him in the way he cares for me there would be no doubt”. And so it goes on.

    I feel endlessly guilty about the imbalance in how we both feel. I can see his intensity of feeling. He knows I have intimacy fear and is so good about it all. I so long to be able to return his loving comments. Something keeps me here though. It is rare to be around someone who listens and has similar values and wants to do the same things. I try to focus on these lists. But they often feel feeble. I feel like the main driver is that I’m so needing to feel love and supported and he gives me that. Perhaps that’s enough. I think Sheryl suggested as much in another blog.

    I do feel like I’ve approached this relationship in a much more mature way though. Seeing the things that matter in a person or partnership. I just wish I could switch all the rest of it off.

    Unlike you all, I am British. Culturally I have been amazed at the weight you all put on marriage here. Like it is the ultimate outcome. I’ve never understood why marriage is so important or necessary to be with someone. Occasionally it’s helpful legally if you have children. But just reading of the anxiety it spikes in people… why go there. (It may be that there is also a majority in the states who are religious. Another theme that I can’t relate to unfortunately). Indeed we don’t need to be in relationships at all. There is a good life to be had solo. That angle really does interest me. Culturally there is so much pressure to be with someone and I wonder if it increases the anxiety.

    Anyway. I wanted to say thank you as it really helps to hear others say similar things and struggle with doubts. I feel less abnormal! I certainly don’t have any friends who can relate. When I have windows of low anxiety I can see how simple it much be for some people – just letting the relationship be and living it in the moment. I’m trying to switch all this head chatter off so that I can enjoy what I have and actually live, free of the numbing that stifles love, creativity, authenticity. Life is so much better when my mind is quiet as I’m sure you’ll all agree.
    Best wishes to all.

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    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment, T. You wrote this several months ago so I’m curious about where you’re at now, but based on what you’ve shared you’re in good company with this community. As I shared today on Instagram, inner work isn’t about choosing the “right” path – yes, it’s okay to be single! – as much as it’s about knowing yourself well enough so that you can align with your values and differentiate between fear and anxiety. It’s subtle and nuanced, but with enough time and patience – and yes, working with a skilled therapist helps enormously – we come to know ourselves in a way that allows us to choose based on values instead of anxiety.

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  14. Not married, but relate, want the same thing.

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  15. What is it if you have voices saying “you don’t love her”, “you don’t want to be with her”, I don’t feel anxious when these come in to my head but constantly keep telling them to go away. Part of me says I would be happier in another relationship but another part of me says stay because I love loving her. Anyone have any advice?

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  16. Any thoughts on the above comment Sheryl? Part of my body says it’s right to leave, but I don’t want to leave, we love each other and really care about each other and that’s why I chose to stay. Is this a good reason to stay? Because you both know you love each other and will always have each other’s backs. Thank you Sheryl!

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  17. One thing that I often get confused about, is having conflicting “intuitions” or “gut feelings”.

    When I first met my now husband, I often felt like something “wasn’t right” in the physical attraction setting. The first few times we kissed, I didn’t really like the way he tasted or how his lips felt. I felt like I easily got “the ick” with him (and often still do to be honest 😔) To me, this seems like an intuitive response to not being attracted to someone, especially at first.

    On the other hand, I also felt like I had an intuition to see how it went, because he was such a sweet guy and I was really curious about him and if it would go anywhere. Sure enough, within a few weeks / months, I was really invested, and it was the first time I’d ever imagined a future with anyone. I can’t quite remember if the ick moments were there, but mostly I had a sense of “rightness” and like I’d found my person.

    So, when I get caught up on the attraction stuff (as I still often do) I always wonder if I should have listened to my original “gut feeling” that I wasn’t physically attracted to my partner. I don’t think it was fear talking, because it was purely based in the moment of when we were kissing. It’s also confusing though, because I should mention that often I love kissing him and we have really great intimacy together!

    I guess I would just really love for someone to tell me that it’s OK, and that having those “ick” moments – even at the start of a relationship, don’t meant that it’s not right.
    In every other sense, he is an amazing partner and we are so compatible. He is so grounded, loving, encouraging, patient and caring (amongst many other things) and he’s always made me feel so safe and at home.

    I feel horrible at the thought of not being together, but I also feel like maybe he deserves someone who finds him physically attractive (he’s mentioned before that he doesn’t want to have just been “friend zoned” as I tried to explain that I fell for his personality). I felt TERRIBLE about this, and still really struggle thinking about it. I guess everyone wants to know that their partner finds them physically attractive, and I feel so guilty that I can’t honestly really say that 😕 I love him so much though and I do have moments of peace and feeling secure in that.

    Thanks in advance 🙏

    Reply

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